RPE Postdoctoral Fellows

Over the five-year grant period, UVA will hire 30 Race, Place, and Equity Postdoctoral Fellows/Research Associates across a variety of schools and disciplines  to advance research, creative practice, and teaching related to race, justice, and equity. Fellows will carry out transformative, cross-disciplinary research; contribute to the understanding of the legacy of racial inequity using place-based methodologies for research or artistic expression; and strengthen existing initiatives that address issues of race, justice, and equity, particularly in North America.

Participating schools at UVA include the College of Arts and Sciences (Rising Scholars program), School of Education and Human Development, McIntire School of Commerce, School of Architecture, School of Law, School of Data Science, and the Frank Batten School for Leadership and Public Policy. RPE Postdoctoral Fellows will thus be part of a larger, university-wide cohort dedicated to place-based investigations of race and equity through different disciplines and methodologies.

The program aims to train the next generation of scholars for future tenure-track positions at UVA or elsewhere. Postdoctoral Fellows selected under this program will be appointed for two years (subject to annual review) and will carry out research, teaching and professional development activities directed toward securing a tenure-track position.  In addition to mentoring within departments, Fellows will join a university-wide cohort for additional career development programs and opportunities.   

See our open positions

Current postdoctoral fellows

Ernesto Benitez in blue shirt standing outside in front of white columns.
Photo: Dan Addison

Ernesto Benitez

Ernesto Benitez holds a PhD in Global and Sociocultural Studies with a concentration in Sociocultural Anthropology from Florida International University (2021). His long-term research is grounded in a decade-long ethnographic engagement with the Amazonian Kichwa (also spelled Quichua) people of Ecuador’s Napo province. He has paid particular attention to the ecotourism boom that occurred in Ecuador’s Upper Amazon in the early 1990s and the impact it has had on the livelihoods and identities of Kichwa people, many of whom have gradually shifted from agricultural and subsistence-based activities to service-based work in ecotourism. His dissertation offers an ethnographic account of how Kichwa tour guides in Napo, the vast majority of whom are young men, negotiate the demands and expectations of the ecotourism industry and how, in the process, they produce and enact new understandings of their ethnic, gendered, and sexual identities.


2021-Erazo, Juliet and Ernesto Benitez. “Becoming Politicians”: Indigenous Pageants as Training Sites for Public Life. (Forthcoming on American Anthropologist).

Jessica Forester standing next to brick wall, facing camera, and smiling

Jessica V. Forrester

Jessica Forrester is a RPE Postdoctoral Fellow working directly with Youth-Nex and the Youth Action Lab in the School of Education and Human Development. Prior to joining the University of Virginia, Jessica earned a Ph.D. in STEM Education from the University of Minnesota as well as a Bachelors and Masters degree in biomedical engineering. Her dissertation research combined her interest in STEM engagement with justice-oriented practices in education to create culturally responsive mathematics activities for an after-school tutoring program in North Minneapolis. Specifically, qualitative and community-based approaches were utilized to acknowledge community assets and in turn value those assets during mathematical learning to influence students’ identity development, skills development, criticality, and joy.

While a doctoral student, Jessica earned two University-wide and equity-based fellowships: the Diversity of Views and Experiences (DOVE) Fellowship and the Leadership in Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity (LEID) Fellowship. She was also involved in the Josie R. Johnson Engaged Dissertation Fellows Program (University of Minnesota) and the Emerging Engagement Scholars Workshop (Engagement Scholarship Consortium), both of which focused on the development of community engaged scholars. These fellowships and organizations embody Jessica’s scholarship and research interests, which are centered in action-oriented methodology, community engagement, and equitable advancements in mathematics education. In addition to mathematics education research, Jessica explores equity and justice through youth participatory action research and mentoring networks.

Janet Kong-Chow wearing off-white v-neck top standing outside
Photo: Dan Addison

Janet Kong-Chow

Janet Kong-Chow is a Rising Scholars Postdoctoral Fellow in American Studies and English at the University of Virginia. Her teaching and research are broadly concerned with diaspora, imperialism, and North American culture, examining overlapping processes of racialization, power, and language. She is committed to interdisciplinary research, specializing in theories of racial capitalism, the environment, disability, postcolonialism, the African diaspora, transnationalism, and legal studies. Her first book project, Securing the Crisis: Race and the Poetics of Risk, considers metaphors of risk as a corollary to 21st century American crisis and racialization. Reading relationally across poetry, photography, ethnography, legislation, film, and sculpture, the project advances the notion of a “poetics of risk” and contends that racialized and minoritized subjects deploy epistemological abstraction and fragmentation not only as resistance, but to rework conventions of periodicity, materialism, and reality we accept as hegemonic. Her second manuscript, Race and Other Accumulative Affects: Hoarding, Curation, and the Modern Archive, locates dispossession, anticipation of emergency, and speculative accumulation as critical affective questions at the intersection of U.S.migration, diaspora, race-making, and cultural preservation. Kong-Chow earned her B.A. in English and History from the University of Pennsylvania and her Ph.D. in English from Princeton University. Her work has been supported by the Andover Institute for the Recruitment of Teachers (IRT) and the Mellon Foundation.

Rashana Lydner in graduation robes in front of UCDavis banner. Head turned and smiling at camera over her shoulder.
Photo courtesy R Lydner

Rashana Lydner

Rashana Vikara Lydner holds a Ph.D. in French and Francophone Studies with a Designated Emphasis in African and African American Studies (African Diaspora Studies) from the University of California, Davis. She earned her Bacherlor’s degrees in French and Spanish with a minor in Psychology, and her Master’s in French from the University of California, Davis. Her work mainly focuses on a transnational approach to the study of Black Popular Culture in the Caribbean basin (Francophone/Anglophone) at the intersections of language, identity and power. At the core of her research is her passion for Creole languages in the Caribbean. Her work highlights how speakers of Creole languages continue to challenge dominant language ideologies and embrace their multilingualism.

Research interests: Creolistics (the study of creole languages); Contact Linguistics, Language and Racialization; Language and Globalization; Language, Gender, and Sexuality; Black France; Caribbean Identity; Black popular culture (Music, social media, etc.), African Diaspora Theory; Black and Third world Feminist thought; Queer Theory. 

Sarah Orsak in front of brick wall looking at camera

Sarah Orsak

Sarah Orsak is a scholar of feminist disability studies. She uses literary and cultural analysis to investigate the imbrications of disability, race, gender, and nation. Orsak’s current research project investigates how disability has cohered as an identity and category of analysis linked to whiteness in the contemporary United States. This research foregrounds how racist ideas of Black womanhood structure dominant ideas of disability.

Sarah Orsak holds a PhD in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from Rutgers University—New Brunswick and her work has been supported by the Mellon Foundation and the Rutgers Center for Research on Women.

Leticia Ridley looking frontally at camera and smiling

Leticia Ridley

Dr. Leticia L. Ridley's primary teaching and research areas include African American theatre and performance, Black feminisms, Black performance theory, and popular culture. Leticia earned a PhD in Theatre and Performance Studies from the University of Maryland, College Park and her research has been funded by the Ford Foundation (where she was a Predoctoral Fellow) and the Mellon-funded African American Digital Humanities program (AADHum). She has presented her scholarship at numerous conferences including the Association for Theatre in Higher Education, American Society for Theatre Research, National Women’s Studies Association, and the American Studies Association. Leticia has published scholarly essays in Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies, the August Wilson Journal, Routledge Anthology of Sports Plays, Journal of American Theatre and Drama, and Contemporary Black Theatre and Performance: Acts of Rebellion, Activism, and Solidarity (forthcoming). Leticia is also the co-producer and co-host of Daughters of Lorraine, a Black feminist theatre podcast, which is supported by HowlRound Theatre Commons and a recurring co-host on On Tap: A Theatre & Performance Studies Podcast. She is also a freelance dramaturg.  

Leticia’s manuscript-in-progress employs a Black feminist methodology to examine contemporary Black women’s performance culture. Her book, divided into four chapters, analyzes the construction and performance of hypervisibility by Black women artists and entertainers from the United States: the visual art of Carrie Mae Weems, the Broadway musicals dedicated to the lives of Tina Turner and Donna Summer, the visual and sonic disruptions of athlete Serena Williams, and the technological performance praxis of musician Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter. This study argues that contemporary Black women artists utilize the historically contingent and fraught dynamic of hypervisibility as a generative mechanism for Black feminist performance.  

Head shot of Alexa Rodriguez smiling, wearing black top and glasses
Photo courtesy Alexa Rodríguez

Alexa Rodríguez

Alexa Rodríguez is a Mellon Postdoctoral Research Associate in the School of Education and Human Development. She recently completed her Ph.D. in History and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her dissertation, “‘For the Prosperity of the Nation’: Education and the US Occupation of the Dominican Republic, 1916-1924” uses historical methods to examine the 1916 US occupation of the Dominican Republic to study how US and Dominican stakeholders used public schools to disseminate their notions of Dominican citizenship. She is currently working on a book manuscript, Crafting Dominicanidad, a transnational and intellectual history that examines how Dominican stakeholders used public schools to articulate and circulate competing notions of Dominican racial, class, and national identity during the early twentieth century.

Head shot of Erica Sterling smiling at camera

Erica Sterling

Erica Sterling is a Rising Scholar Postdoctoral Fellow in the History Department. Her research focuses on the history of education law and policy, and twentieth-century U.S. urban and philanthropic history. Her book project tells an intellectual history of federal education politics from 1954 to 1994; she interrogates how federal bureaucrats and philanthropists, education researchers and practitioners theorized and developed non-judicial alternatives for large segregated school systems of the North and West untouched by Brown v. Board of Education (1954). Erica holds her BA in History and Psychology from Emory University, and her PhD in History from Harvard University.

Alumni RPE Fellows

Mauricio Acuña wearing dark glasses and smiling
Photo courtesy Mauricio Acuña

Mauricio Acuña

Mauricio Acuña is a scholar of Afro-Latin American Studies, and his work focuses on the literatures and cultures of the African Diaspora in the Americas, especially Brazil and Cuba. His research interests includes World Festivals of Black Arts, poetry, fiction, performances and the Afro-Brazilian martial art capoeira. In the next two years, Mauricio will be teaching three courses in the Global Studies Program and Department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, on themes like“Black Global Festivals: Literature and Performance,” “Images of Afro-Latin American Worlds, ”and “Exuzilhar: Crossroads in Afro-Diasporic Cinema,” in which students will engage with artists and create performances, as well as curate images for a visual exhibition. Students interested in learning about African diasporic art, history, and cultural productions in the Global South are encouraged to contact Mauricio now to start planning their schedules.

Kat Cosby wearing gray shirt standing in front of a brick wall
Photo courtesy Kat Cosby

Kat Cosby

Kat Cosby is a Rising Scholars Postdoctoral Fellow in the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Department. They are an interdisciplinary scholar whose work focuses on Black women and their geographies in Brazil in the post-abolition era. Their book manuscript interrogates how the presence and contributions of Black women and the attempts to erase them historically from geographies in São Paulo were essential to the formation and development of the city. Kat examines how criminalizing Black women's presence was crucial to whitening ideology and practices in the early twentieth century.

Kat Cosby received their Ph.D. in History from the University of California, Irvine.

Siddhant Issar (Sid) wearing blue button-down shirt.
Photo: Dan Addison

Siddhant Issar (“Sid”)

Siddhant Issar is a Rising Scholar Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Politics at the University of Virginia. His research and teaching interests lie in modern and contemporary political theory, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the politics of race, class, and settler colonialism in the US. His work has been published in Contemporary Political Theory, Race & Class, The Black Scholar, and in an edited volume, Creolizing Rosa Luxemburg. Currently, Issar is working on a book manuscript, titled Theorizing Racial Capitalism in the Era of Black Lives Matter. Issar holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and a B.A. and M.A. from Wesleyan University and The Graduate Center, City University of New York, respectively.